New Zealand favours Union Jack on its flag

Wellington: The British Union Jack retained its place in New Zealand's national flag on Wednesday as the official result of a referendum on changing the design was released.

The official result from the Electoral Commission mirrored the preliminary results published last week, showing 56.6 percent voting in favour of the current flag and 43.2 percent voting for an alternative new design, Xinhua reported.

More than 2.14 million votes were cast, representing a voter turnout of 67.78 percent.

The result has widely been seen as a snub for Prime Minister John Key who personally initiated the bid to change the flag and openly supported the alternative silver fern design.

The government has pledged not to revisit the issue and urged New Zealanders to embrace the current colonial-era naval ensign, which features the Union Jack prominently in the top left corner on a blue field with four red stars representing the Southern Cross constellation.

The alternative had a stylised silver fern with the Southern Cross on a blue and black field -- a design critics likened to a souvenir tea towel and a corporate logo.

The result ended months of polarising and rancorous debate that straddled political party lines, although campaigners for change said the debate will continue.

The process was marred by controversy and rancour since it was initiated by Key after the 2014 general election.

Critics of the present flag, including Key, said it was too similar to the Australian flag and a hangover from the country's colonial past.

Key said earlier this month that New Zealanders were unlikely to have another chance to choose their flag before the country became a republic -- an event that was unlikely to happen in his lifetime.